Roger Corman: How to Never Lose a Dime Making Indie Films
Who knew you could take films with such titles as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent” so seriously? But that’s exactly what has happened for 50 odd years now.
It was easy for him because there is nothing about Roger Corman that doesn’t bleed the business of filmmaking.
But what is it that makes a man generate a filmography of 350+ produced credits?
“Motion pictures are the art form of the 20th century, and one of the reasons is the fact that films are a slightly corrupted artform. They fit this century – they combine Art and business!”
Isn’t it crazy to think that this is coming from an indie filmmaker?
“Business” is a yucky word to those of us who still starve for our art, but it seems to have worked for the man who gave the first break to Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, and Robert De Niro among others.
Filmmaking is diverse and a widely practiced art form. Some would argue there is more supply than demand so we could all learn a little bit from his personal “Art + Business” filmmaking philosophy.
“Other writers, producers, and directors of low-budget films would often put down the film they were making, saying it was just something to make money”
We have all done it. We have all made or been part of films where we felt they were just “stepping stones” to the next thing.
In Hollywood, this is done for money. In the vast population of independent filmmakers, this is done to get ahead and to eventually have a career where we can make money.
But Roger Corman was a director, writer, producer and an executive producer who always did exactly what he wanted and he never lost a dime.
I can already hear the objections…
“But he’s in LA…”
LA is not the answer to everything. With the vast distribution network available to you every time you pick up your phone, you can more than figure out how to at least attempt to get your film picked up or distributed.
If Roger Corman distributed actual film reels to theaters and he got a theatrical release out of every single one of them back in the day. I’m sure you can find an audience for an 422 render of your movie.
Louis CK shot Tomorrow Night with a modest budget and self distributed on his website years after premiering. And now look at what he’s up too, self distributing Horace and Pete off his own website.
“Yeah but I don’t have the audience!”
Ever heard of Cube directed by Vincenzo Natali? I hope you haven’t because it is a terrible movie but that is another example of something that developed a cult following after getting mixed reviews at best. Again, self distributed.
Maybe your movie is the next cult classic.
“But I don’t have $1,000,000…”
Shoot low budget. Most of Corman’s films are under a million, while even some are under fifty thousand.
Oscar nominated film Anomalisa was made with four hundred thousand, and Kung Fury launched their blockbuster Kickstarter campaign with just mere thousands.
What’s your excuse?
“But I want to make art…”
Roger Corman spends his life doing exactly the kind of films that he wants to make, despite what others my think of it. It is easy to look at a film like “Dinocroc”, “Piranhaconda”, and “Supergator” and think they are garbage (they most certainly are camp) but what if that was the intent?
What if the idea was to make a “bad” movie?
Can you say that your intention to make a “good” movie be any less artistically inclined?
Art is subjective, we all know this. So budget has nothing to do with it.
“But he has experience…”
You think he always had experience? You think the doctor’s were pulling him from the womb and said “Wait, wait… I think that’s a 35mm he’s holding! And such good framing too…”
Of course not.
He had to learn. How? By taking risks and believing in every project, putting as much work and attention into them as if each was his last.
“When I started in the late 1950s, every film I made – no matter how low the budget – got a theatrical release. Today, less that 20-percent of our films get a theatrical release.”
So why keep going? Why keep going if now you’re not going to see your films on the big screen?
With someone like Roger Corman, it’s not about that. It’s about innovating the ways in which you sell movies.
From the big screen, he moved to a television-movie model by selling his films to the SyFy Network. He survived throughout the many changes in Hollywood and in the filmmaking industry through sheer tenacity and a will to think of himself as a person who knows a little bit more than the average studio head.
Come on, we can all relate to that last part.
There goes the ongoing story of Roger Corman. Still alive to this day making films, just like we all hope to be.
He made his own path through understanding the one key thing that we should all ponder about: Where do art and business meet?
Which is a question we should all ask. Wouldn’t it be in our best interest to welcome the business side instead of deny it? Art is subjective, it can be anything, but Corman has proved to us that this artform always functions in accordance with entertainment value.
Film can be whatever you want it to be despite your limitations.
It’s what puts asses in seats is sheer will and confidence of the film you made. The conviction comes off on screen and you will be surprised at your audience’s reaction.
The lesson is not that you have to make campy films but if people want to watch a half shark/half octopus monster then we can know that there is an audience for everything.
It’s clear that in the greater motion picture industry, art and business are crucial inseparable elements and nowhere is that more apparent than in the life of Roger Corman.
Check out the trailer for Roger Corman’s Documentary “Corman’s World“. Here’s a bit about the movie:
CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL is a tantalizing and star-studded tribute to Roger Corman, Hollywood’s most prolific writer-director producer, and seminal influencing force in modern moviemaking over the last 60 years.
Featuring interviews with Hollywood icons and cinematic luminaries, some who launched their careers within Corman’s unforgettable world of filmmaking, including Paul W.S. Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Ron Howard, Eli Roth, Martin Scorsese, William Shatner and Jack Nicholson, along with many others, this documentary chronicles how Roger Corman created his cult film empire, one low-budget success at a time, capitalizing on undiscovered talent, and pushing the boundaries of independent filmmaking.
Director Alex Stapleton weaves archival footage following Roger’s illustrious career: From his early days of genre-defining classics including the original Fast and Furious, the original Little Shop of Horrors, The Crybaby Killer, The Intruder, House of Usher, and The Wild Angels (which at that point in 1966 was his 100th film) – to present day video of him and his wife Julie on location, still at work as they continue to produce and distribute films outside the studio system: fast, cheap and out-of-this-world!
MGU Interview: Roger Corman
In this interview from the Movie Geeks United podcast, legendary director and producer Roger Corman discusses his latest project – the subscription based YouTube channel Corman’s Drive-In.
If the art and business aspect of filmmaking interests you, or if you dream of knowing how to make sure your film does more than just “breaking even” before you even start shooting, then get your free Filmmaker’s Toolkit at indiefilmTO.com. Article written by Pablo Carranza at indiefilmTO.com
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